Sunday, December 30, 2012

A new New Year's Resolution.

2012 is coming to an end. In retrospect, I would give this year a mixed revue. There have been some amazing moments, like our honeymoon in Japan, the road-trip from NY to Miami and finishing a marathon. But unfortunately, this year has also been struck by quite a few health related issues, affecting many of my closest and dearest.

I can feel something shift. I'm not sure if it has anything to do with me turning 30, but health and well-being has made it to the top of my priority list. Not just for myself, but for everyone I hold dear. I've know for a while how important health is, but I've started to really understand and feel it. I will not deny that my weigh-loss has made shopping a whole lot more fun, but I can honestly say, I'm even more delighted when I see my test results after my annual check-up. It was a true sense of achievement to finish my first marathon. But as proud as I am over my finisher's medal, I'm even more proud that I've given myself a stronger heart and much more capable lungs.

There are so many things in life we can't control. But there is really no point stressing about that fact. It will not make is less true. And, we should remember that we're not completely powerless and that we're not left to fend for ourselves. For the past decade, or so, I've made the same New Year's resolution. I've always vowed that by the end of the year, I will have had a good year. I will stick to my resolution, but from now on I will add to it. My new New Year's resolution will be: "By the end of the year, I will have had a good year. And I will do everything in my power to care for myself and others, both emotionally and physically, by using the tools I can control, such as loving more, be more content, be more patient and through nutrition and exercise.

With these words, I wish you a Happy and Healthy 2013.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas, Turning 30 etc.

Let me start by wishing you Happy Holidays! Christmas is upon us. And as with every December, people are busy, busy, busy. So I will keep this short.

A few days ago, I turned 30. I feel that I should say something profound, or at least something thoughtful. But I'm not sure there is a whole lot to say. It is true that you only turn 30 once, but isn't that true for every birthday? Let me mark the occasion by looking back at the first decade I remember fully.

2003, 20: Heartbreak
2004, 21: Met the love of my life
2005, 22: Graduated University of Birmingham
2006, 23: First real job
2007, 24: Lots of travelling (work and weekly commute)
2008, 25: Moved to the US
2009, 26: Got married
2010, 27: First time car owner
2011, 28: Lost 50 lbs
2012, 29: Ran a marathon
30: ?

Am I where I thought I would be at 30? Did 20 year old me think that I would be a homemaker in US, wearing a size small and running marathons? Absolutely not! Am I happy I am? Absolutely yes! I enjoyed my 20s, as I will enjoy my 30s. It's one of the perks of being easily entertained, I enjoy pretty much anything. I will admit that I don't necessarily enjoy planning, so I don't do much of it, which works out for me. It makes new situations intriguing rather deviations from "the plan".

Ok... writing about Christmas, check! Turning 30, check! Etc?

What's the etc? While I'm curious to see what my 30s bring me, I'm not sure how much of it I will get to enjoy. You see, I'm about to freeze to death! I'm so frigging cold! I freeze everyday, at all times, regardless of what I do or what I wear. The last five(!) times I've been out shopping, I've come home with Smartwool, Merino wool, cashmere, down jacket, ski-socks and turtlenecks. And Heat-tech from Uniqlo. If I layer three layers of heat-tech and wool it becomes bearable, and that's just for sitting in my apartment. We've all heard that fat is a good insulator, but let me tell you, fat is an amazing insulator. I'm by no means eager to pile on the 50 lbs I've lost, but did I use to freeze this much. NO!

And on that note, I'll conclude my unorthodox holiday letter. Again, I wish you Happy Holidays. Love. Be loved. And stay warm.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Marathon Survivor

I did it! I've finished my first marathon! Jennifer vs California International Marathon 1 - 0!

Sunday, December 2, 2012 was the big day. I prepared, I trained and it was time to deliver. The route to my destination was clearly mapped out. I was to run 26.2 miles, from Folsom to Sacramento.

However, as it turned out, the actual journey there was bumpy and rough. There were quite a few surprise twists and turns and most of the time, I felt utterly lost.

Sunday morning, as I got on the shuttle that would take the runners from our Sacramento hotel to the starting line in Folsom, I felt like an impostor. Around me were all these amazing athletes, ready to run California International Marathon, and what was I doing, trying to be one of them? The spirit on the bus was high, so I put on a brave face, smiled and joined in, meanwhile I could feel my self-confidence dwindle for every mile we drove away from Sacramento and our finish line. By the time we arrived at Folsom, I had gone from nervous to petrified.

As if running 26.2 miles wouldn't have been difficult enough, the biggest challenge of the day was the weather. I live in California. If I plan a run and it happens to rain that day, I'll simply postpone it. Needless to say, I was not prepared to run in stormy conditions with rain and wind. As I stood on the starting line, already drenched and fully saturated in rain, it dawned on me that this would be my reality for the next 5 hours to come. And as it turned out, over an inch (25 mm) of water pour down over our heads and adding to the misery, we had a headwind at 33 mph (15m/s), gusting to 41 mph (18m/s).

I hunkered down and started running. In an instance, I was completely overwhelmed by the task of completing a full marathon and its 26 miles. The first time the thought of giving up entered my mind was around mile 1.  The first time I seriously considered stepping aside was at mile 3. And this mental game would continue all throughout the race and it would prove to be my biggest obstacle.

If someone would have told me that running a marathon is all about mental strength, I would never have questioned my ability. If I got a penny for every time I've been told I'm the most stubborn person alive, I would be a very rich woman. My husband specifically told me not to be too stubborn, incase I would injure myself, I was not allowed to push on, I would have to stop.

So it was shocking to me, how close I came to giving up, multiple times. Between the wind, the rain and my depleted self-confidence, I found it near impossible to push forward. I almost gave up at every aid-station along the road. But, as I pushed pass each aid-station, I knew I wouldn't turn around and go back, so had no choice but to give up at the following one.

Physically I was uncomfortable, but not hurting. My heart-rate was well under control. I knew my body was able to keep going, but I felt so defeated. I have a few favorite mantras and thoughts I go through when I need some extra motivation, but they are usually reserved for the last few miles, as the first 15 miles usually are pretty smooth and not too taxing. But when you have to make a mental effort every time you move your feet, from the very first step and onward, the trusted mantras will only take you so far before you stop listening to yourself.

One thought that did manage to keep me going was that I knew that quitting would be instant gratification while completing the race would be a lifetime of pride. And what is a few hours of misery and suffering in the big picture of things? So I had no choice but to hunker down, and keep moving forward. The minutes would keep on ticking by and if I could keep putting one foot infront of the other, I would eventually reach the finish line.

As the hours progressed I realized how sensitive I had become. It seemed like it took all of my energy to just keep moving forward that I had no energy left to do anything else. I became very sensitive to sounds, I could feel every raindrop on my skin and I felt emotionally vulnerable. All the smiling volunteers and cheering crowds had braved the elements to make our lives a little bit easier. As I read the signs people were holding, every word had an emotional impact on me. Some made me smile, some made me annoyed and one lady made me cry. I was in a particularly dark place when I saw a woman holding a sign saying: "Precious few can do what you do". It hit me right where I needed it. I took her words to heart and thought back to that sign several times as I inched my way towards the end.

When I reached the 20 mile mark, my self-doubt started to subside. I did not run 20 miles just to give up on my final 6! By the time I'd reached 21 miles, the rain had stopped and the sun came out to greet us. Don't get me wrong, the last 6 miles were still a struggle. I was beyond fed up and exhausted. I was even swearing out loud (in Swedish). If running was my child, someone would have called Child Protective Services in a hurry!

The last three miles were not so much three miles of running as they were three miles of shuffling. When I reached mile 25, I though back to when I had run my very first mile of the race. I wish I would have felt a sense of achievement and I wish I could have though to my self "I can't believe I only have one mile left, it feels like I started a moment ago". Instead it felt like I had been running for an eternity and that I ran my first mile a couple of days ago.

A few blocks from the finish line, three familiar faces stood jumping and cheering in the crowd. Seeing my parents and my husband I could feel a wave of warmth and love wash over me. I knew I only had a few minutes left ro run before I could collaps into their arms. As I turned my last corner and caught the first glimpse of the finish line, I could feel tears stinging my eyes. I did not cry out of pride or happiness, I was just relieved that it was finally over, that I somehow made it through and that I could finally come to a stop.

9300 people registered to run the full marathon. 6474 people started the race. 289 people never reached the finish line. I came very close to being one of them. Instead, I'm now one of 6185 people who braved the elements and won an epic battle.

It has been a few days since the race. It feels like it was a lifetime ago. When I look back at videos and photos from the event, I think people must be mad to run in those conditions. Even though I suffered and nearly broke into pieces, my body has handled the stress very well, surprisingly well. The day after the race, my joints felt stiff and my biceps(!) where sore. Three days after the race it feels like it never happened. My heart, lungs, muscles and joints where all ready for the challenge. The weakest link turned out to be my mind. I would never have guessed. California International Marathon turned out to be the biggest mental challenge I've ever faced. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, so next time I will be stronger. And yes, I'm pretty sure there will be a next time... eventually...

Take a look at this video, especially the second half.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Marathon training

It might be too early to start summarizing 2012, but regardless of the few weeks left, 2012 will always be the year I took my exercising to a whole other level. 2011 was significant because it was ther year it all started. I stared to exercise, I started to loose weight and I started a healthier way of life. But 2012 will be there year I ran my first 10 km race, I finished my first triathlon, I ran my first half-marathon and hopefully I will also be able to add finishing my first marathon to the list.

Because that's were I am right now. I'm training for a my first marathon. It felt like such a good idea when I signed up and it still felt like an ok idea after I finished my half-marathon, even though training for it was a very humbling experience. It's been about 5 weeks since then and I've been training for my marathon as best as I can. For every week that passes, my self-doubt grows. Will I really be able to do this? How will I be able to keep myself motivated? Can my legs carry me all the way? Why do I feel that I have to do it? 

From the get-go, I've had three goals for the marathon:

1 Finish the race...
2 ... without permanent injuries...
3 ... and hopefully without hating running forever.

These three goals might not seem all that ambitious, and when I decided on these goals I did it, in part, to bring the expectations down and the pressure off. But after last weekend's long run, these goals have not just turned realistic but truly challenging.

First of all, if you've ever wondered, let me tell you that training for a half-marathon and training for a full maraton is two different realities all together. I'm not quite sure where the magic line is drawn, but somewhere between mile 13 (21 km) and 20 (32 km) things start to hurt, wear down and weaken. This became blatantly obvious after my last run.

Last Sunday I ran 20 miles (32 km) which will be the longest run I will do before the marathon. I will not break it down mile by mile but the first 12 miles felt fine, the next 5 miles were bearable, the following two miles had me huffing, puffing and cussing out loud and the final mile almost made me cry. I'm pretty sure I would have cried if I had the energy to produce tears.

When I finally came home, I was in so much pain. My muscles were screaming at me and I had difficulties talking in full sentences. And all of a sudden, an uneasy feeling washed over me. Nausea! Time to run (hobble) to the porcelain thrown. I had run myself sick. I know it's not unheard of, but it sure was a first for me. Never had I exerted myself to were I had to throw-up.

A sobering thought followed this incident. What if I will not be able to finish the race? I only did 20 miles, I have another 6 miles to go. How do I feel about the fact that my body might actually have limitations? I haven't given up on my goals, but for the first time I'm faced with the possibility of not being able to reach them. I guess I will know within three weeks from now.

To end things on a positive note. The distance of a half-marathon is not even remotely intimidating anymore. I'm also happy to report that my cardiovascular system is handling all of this just fine. And regardless of the upcoming marathon, I've taken huge steps towards a fitter and stronger me.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Presidential Election 2012

Today is Election day! The United States Presidential Election, that is. So many thoughts, and so little power. I hope all the people out there, with the ability to vote, will do their democratic duty and cast their vote today. Regardless of political conviction, it is better to have a conviction than not to care at all.

In January 1999, I started a chapter of my life, which would come to dominate majority of my formative years. I joined a political party and became politically involved. Over the next four years, my heart, mind and soul would be occupied by ideology, philosophy, debates and political campaigns. This all took place in Sweden, and without explaining the political heritage of Sweden in details, it is enough to know that Sweden is firmly rooted in social democracy. But I was not. The party I represented was the Moderate Party, and I labelled myself a libertarian. I detested taxes, demanded a smaller government and valued the individual before the masses. Ayn Rand was my hero and many of my friends back then would have been proud members of the Tea Party today.

As any idealistic, passionate young person, I pursued politics with unfazed conviction and I set out to change the world for the better. The reason why I left my political engagements in Sweden was to move to England to study International Studies with Political Science. I fought my way through three years of constant battles which at times turned ugly enough for a professor to tell me flat out that I deserved to die.

What was I fighting for? If you would boil it down, I was fighting for freedom. Freedom for each individual to make the decisions they want, about their own lives.

When it was decided my husband and I were moving to the US, one of my biggest curiosities was to see and feel how it would be to live in a nation, sharing Sweden's feelings about democracy, but in all other respects, its polar opposite. As a young political activist, my friends and I had always held the US very high. It was as close to the ideal as any currently existing country. We would follow every US presidential election and we would always hope for the Republicans to win, cause we didn't like taxes either.

Little did I know how much I was about to change.

Don't get me wrong. Philosophically, I'm still a libertarian. But does that make me a republican? Hardly! I still think taxes in Sweden are too high, but does it mean that the mere existence of taxes is wrong? Was taxes even the issue that got me politically involved? Absolutely not! My first public debate was about same-sex couples right to be approved as adoptive parents.

In the end of the day, freedom is still something worth fighting for. My political background in Sweden was mostly about financial freedom, because we had very little. The only reason why it took president over social freedoms was because Sweden is one of the most socially free countries in the world. But moving to the US has made me re-discover where my heart is actually at. You can give me as much financial freedom as you want, but as long as I'm not free to decide over my own body or who I want to marry, it would not be worth much. I will always choose social freedom before financial freedom.

It is with part anticipation and part dread I will follow this Presidential Election. The power is in the hands of Americans, I can only stand by and watch. Unlike my younger self, I'm hoping to see less finance and more humanity.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Three years of bliss

Today, 3 years ago, I had the privilege of marrying my soulmate. I call it a privilege because it is something we shouldn't take for granted. First of all, you need to find a person to love. Both of you need to be at the right place at the right time, both physically and emotionally. Both of you also need to share the desire to discover if this is the real deal or not. Even if everything goes smoothly and according to plan, you might never reach a point beyond it feeling fine and nice. But it is when it feels spectacular and amazing you know you've truly got it right. And if you both wish to, you might eventually decide to get married.

At the dinner following our wedding, I read a little something I had written. I'm happy to say it was true back then and it still rings true today (with the exception of an electronic device upgrade):

Call it coincident, accident or call it fate
This story has its beginning on www.Spray-date
I was looking for someone to love and admire
Little did I know I’d find someone to be with when I retire

Martin found a girl called Jennifer Lee
And I fell in love with a computer Phd
A man who is tall, blond and slightly pale
A man who loves music, tv and a good garage sale
We all know he loves candy, whiskey and that he is a joker
He is full of surprises, he’s never mediocre

As a couple, we love to travel from nation to nation
But we are just as happy in front of our Playstation
Or battling over the high score on our Nintendo Wii
As long as we’re together, laughs are a guarantee

Sometimes we engage in some friendly competition
Sometimes we discuss, I can’t help but being a politician. 
I don’t necessary share his love for stupid puns
To cheer him up, I give him cinnamon buns. 

We have spend many, too many, days being apart
And with every good bye came an aching pain in my heart
Like when I moved to Trelleborg to work with flooring
I missed you everyday, I even missed your snoring

To spend time together means so incredibly much
Like sleeping in same bed, just you, me and your Ipod-touch.
So, I proposed to you in front of an episode of House
I was delighted you agreed to be my spouse

Today we married and I’m now your wife
I look forward to be with you for the rest of my life. 
I want to be by your side when we’re wrinkled and grey
My dear husband Martin, jag kommer alltid att älska dig (translation: I will always love you)

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Beauties and The Beast

Last week I came back from an epic road-trip with my dear BFF, Theres. We met up in New York (JFK Airport) and picked up a rental car, and over the next 15 days, we drove from New York to Miami, via Philadelphia, Washington DC, Charlottesville, Charlotte, Atlanta, Tallahassee and Tampa Bay. Needless to say, we saw and experienced a lot!

It seems futile to sum up such an intense vacation within a blogpost, especially considering the many twists and turns we had through out the trip. One night we stayed at a shady and dirty road-side motel outside of Philadelphia just to check in at a 5 star hotel, less than a mile from the White House, the following night. We often ate a sandwich for lunch, while parked at a gas station, just to arrive at our destination and go out to have a nice dinner at places like JCT Kitchen and Bar in Atlanta. One day we would buy rain-boots and the next we would be tanning on Miami Beach.

But there are a couple of things worth mentioning, that has less to do with what we saw, ate and did and more to do with the circumstances under which we travelled.

This is the fourth major trip Theres and I do together. 2009 we did a road-trip from San Francisco to LA, Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. The following year we went island-hopping in Thailand and last year we went diving in Mexico. Since our trip to Thailand, we both live much healthier lifestyles. This has resulted in a combined weight-loss of about 100lbs. In the process, both of us has found strength in eating correctly and exercising regularly. So unlike our old selves, we did not use vacationing in a car as an excuse to overindulge and be lazy. We made a point in booking hotels with a gym/cardio-room and we exercised every other day.

One evening when I was up-loading photos onto my laptop, I realized I had our old photos from Thailand on my computer. We were both shocked to see our "before-pictures". It's been about 1,5 years since we took those photos, and look where we are now. I am so proud of the accomplishment  I feel a need to share my excitement.

The other things I need to share is about the car we drove. As I mentioned, we picked up a rental car in New York. As we travelled on a budget, we decided we didn't need a big car, as long as it was reliable and big enough for two. We got our wishes granted. It was with a certain surprise and hesitation we accepted the car we were given. True, it was big enough for two. We were also able to fit our luggage, at least after we folded the back seats. Our new shining steed soon earned itself a name. The Beast.

But don't judge a book by its cover. It was surprisingly strong and fast. We had plenty of space in the cabin and needless to say, the milage was awesome. It costed us roughly $20 to drive from Atlanta to Tallahassee  (approx. 265 miles). Initially, we were a bit concerned about the safety aspect of the car. In a car crash, we would not have faired well. But again, there was no need to worry. Other cars (and trucks) treated us as if we were bicyclists. They gave us plenty of room and drove very carefully around us.

All in all, the road-trip was fantastic. There are so many things I could have written about and so many impressions I would have liked to share. But in the end of the day, places, foods and sights will still be there. It is who you get to share them with that makes it special and turns a trip into a once in a lifetime experience. I can proudly say I got to share this amazing memory with The Beauty and The Beast.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Thinking while running

Yesterday I went running. I did my longest run to date, 13.5 miles (aka 21.7 km, aka a Half Marathon). I tried to keep track of my thoughts, if for no other reason than to keep my mind busy. It is amazing how many thought you can go through (and repeat) in 2.5 hours.

Let me break it down for you. These where my predominant thoughts, mile by mile:

 1 mile: The sun is not up, the sprinklers are still on and all the parking lots are empty. People are preparing to start a new day. And here I am, running... By the time I'm done most people will have dropped the kids off, gotten themselves to the office, had coffee and they might even be planning where to have lunch.

2 mile: Second possible turn to the right, second possible turn to the right, here's the second possible turn to the right. Is this right? I wonder what this surface is called. Bigger than pebbles but smaller than boulders. Rocks? Am I running on rocks? Am I suppose to run on rocks? Wait, why are people running on the other side of the stream? Surely this road of rocks will eventually end up at the same place... or...

3 mile: I'm proud. I remember a time, less than 2 years ago, when I wasn't even able to finish my first 3 mile race. Here I am, starting to feel warmed-up after three miles, knowing I have over 10 miles to go and I know I will be able to do it. This is not even a race, this is just training. Look at how far I've come.

4 mile: Wow, this is really boring. And I have 10 more miles to go. 10 more miles!!! I need to occupy my mind. What should I think about? Maybe I should write a blog post about my thoughts, mile by mile. What have I thought about up until now...

5 mile: Hm... this is kinda neat. I'm strong, I'm capable and I don't hate this. It looks like it will be a nice day. This trail is actually really pretty. Water on both sides and the temperature is perfect. This is not  bad, not bad at all.

6 mile: Maybe I should take my jacket off, it's getting pretty warm. Should I eat my gel now? I wonder what my husband is doing. We should really clean our apartment this weekend.  What's that swarm of insects? Wow, the gel is really sweet. That's a fast cyclist, I wish I could go that fast. I wonder how it feels to fall off a bike. Wait, that's not a swarm of insects, they are birds. Cool! I should take a photo.

7 mile: I feel fatigued. This is no fun. At least I'm half way there. Half way done with a half marathon... which equals 25% of a full marathon... Hm... running a marathon is starting to sound like a challenge. Maybe I should've tried the half marathon distance before I registered and paid for the California International Marathon in Sacramento this December. This might prove to be interesting.

8 mile: It's ok again. I feel ok. I almost feel powerful. My heart rate is still around 155 bpm and I'm able to maintain my pace. I'm not hurting anywhere. My form is good. Short strides to protect my knees, shoulders, arms and hands are relaxed and I can feel how I land on the ball of my foot. This is going well.

9 mile: I can see how people with a lot of things on their mind might enjoy running. It's the perfect time to be alone with your thoughts and it might even help to distract from the monotonous action of running or/and exhaustion from panting. But I don't have a thousand things to think about. I guess I can make things up. What should I think about..? It's difficult to be imaginative when your mind is distracted by running.

10 mile: Ok, this is starting to go down hill. Not literally, that would be too good to be true. I think I'm starting to feel tired. My heart rate is still good and so is my pace, but my legs are feeling heavier and I'm actually struggling a bit. Maybe I'll feel stronger again soon. Just stick with it.

11 mile: I've never run this far! And I know why! Because this sucks! OMG, I want it to be over! The Sacramento Marathon is now, officially, the most stupid idea I've ever had! WHY?!? Why did I sign up? How was that a good idea?

12 mile: Oh no! My knees hurt! Wait, or is it my calves? Or maybe my gluteus and my hamstrings? Or perhaps my abs? No, it's my feet. Or my hips. Wait a minute, everything below my ribcage hurts! And it's about to get worse, here comes the calves cramps!

13 mile: Don't you dare give up now. I have a handful of debris in my shoes, and it's really uncomfortable. But if I stop I don't think I will be able to start running again, so just keep going! One foot infront of the other. Pull yourself together!

13.5 mile: Ok, I need to run further than 13.1 miles. But what if the distance isn't measured correctly? I better run 13.2 miles, just in case. Why not make is 13.5 miles, to really be on the safe side. Maybe I could even run 14 miles. But why in the world would I run 14 miles? I'm so frigging uncomfortable I wanted to stop miles ago. Nope, 13.5 miles will have to do.

The aftermath: I was unbelievably sore, I almost felt broken. My muscles, my joints and my spirit. However, after a good night's sleep, I'm surprised at how well I am doing. I even went to the gym today. But the whole experience taught me a necessary lesson. Don't ignore proper build up when adding on the miles. It's not advisable to run an average of two times a week (one interval and one 6 miler), run 10 miles once, go back to shorter runs for two months and then run a half marathon. Nobody will enjoy that run, not even a person as awesome and powerful as I am!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Written by a Kid

I would call myself an easily entertained person. It doesn't take much. So, when asked if I like something, it might not be a good gauge of the actual entertainment value of that specific something. But what makes me a poor critic could also be interpreted as when somethings stands out to me, you can be sure it is something beyond the ordinary.

Lately I have loved a new Youtube show, called Written by a Kid. It might be one of my favorite shows of all times. The idea is simple, yet ingenious. Let a child tell a story and have professional animators and directors make a short movie based on the material. Each episode is just a few minutes long, and they are presented in a variety of different ways. Below, you will find my favorite episode this far, but I urge you to see all of them. Trust me, I guarantee, you will not regret it!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Summer Break

Summer hiatus. One could question the need for a break when everyday more or less mimics a vacation. But what can I say? It is what it is.

It's been two months since my last blog post. Not that I haven't had things to write about or that there has been a lack of inspiration. Au contraire, there has been a plethora of things to choose from. Besides my random thought and contemplations, I had grand plans to write about a bike-trip my husband and I did to Sonoma and Napa. I also wanted to write about the Olympics. I've spent four weeks in Sweden which is always inspirational. In addition, I've tried Crossfit for the very first time and that experience was certainly worthy of a blog post.

As a teenager I used to write a diary. There was a clear correlation between events in my life and the frequency of my writing. The more things that happened, the less I wrote. But as soon as I slowed down, I wanted to go back and write about all the neat stuff I just experienced. But before I was done doing that, new things had happened and I would never catch up so I would eventually grow tired of writing and just stop. When looking through my old diaries, many of the major events in my life (like my first kiss, my first boyfriend and my first solo-trip abroad) can be read in bullet-points.

But don't worry, I will not subject you to having to read bullet-points and filling out the blanks.

I'm a firm believer of living in the present, even though I realize keeping a diary, and writing a blog, is a chronicle of today's events, thoughts and feelings to be kept for the future. But for the purpose of this blog post, I will stick to living in the present. Not only because it rings true, but also because it conveniently allows me to pick up the ball and get straight back into the game.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Culture, Society, Life

Never has a weekend embodied my blog as much as June 23-24. In less than 48 hours, culture, society and life was represented, and experienced, in significant ways.

One is usually never as patriotic as when living abroad. Since my husband and I moved to the Us, we have turned minor Swedish celebrations into social gatherings in a ways we never did when living in Sweden. Prime example of that would be the new found importance of Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday) and it's semlor ( So, what happens when one of the most important holidays to all Swedes, regardless of where they live, comes knocking on your door? You pull out all the stocks, invite your friends and immerse yourself in all things Swedish. Hello, Midsummer!

What kind of Swedes would we be if we didn't celebrate midsummer? And as cultural ambassadors, it's not enough to just stop by IKEA and pick up whatever they have to offer. In all honesty, I will credit most of the midsummer feast to IKEA, but this year, I cured my own salmon, made my own meatballs and baked my own strawberry cake which required a homemade vanilla custard. We also made flower wreaths to wear in our hair, which I haven't done since I was a young girl, and back then it was mostly me watching my mom make me one.

14 years ago, in 1998, I did my first public debate, defending gay rights. That specific time it was regarding equal rights to be eligible to adopt, regardless of sexual orientation. The battle of people's equality in the eyes of the law, and ultimately society, has always been a passion of mine. I'm happy to say that Sweden has come far in this battle, so perhaps it is just fitting that I have made the US my new battle ground. 

One of my favorite things about San Francisco, if not the  favorite thing, is that the city welcomes everyone. There is room for all to express themselves in which ever way they want. I have stood in the audience, cheering, at San Francisco Pride Parade before, but this year I had the chance to participate in a more significant way, I had the chance to march in the Pride Parade. Joining the hundreds of Google employees with friends and family, we danced our way down Market Street. I can't help but to get a little teary eyed when I think back at all the smiles, cheers and the celebration of love. Cause at the end of the day, that's what it's all about.

I finished my first triathlon! Jennifer vs. Silicon Valley Sprint Triathlon, 1-0! Two years ago, I went out on my first attempt to run. I had to stop and rest after 200 meters (0.12 miles). Last weekend, I swam 800 meters (0.5 miles), biked 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) and ran 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). And the best thing of all, I was six minutes faster than the average female! It might not sound particularly  impressive, but trust me, there were some pretty serious athletes in the race.

Ok, so I'm a TERRIBLE swimmer! Awful! The distance was not a problem, I was just very, very slow. Also, I learnt pretty fast that swimming along side other people in a lake is very different from swimming by yourself in a pool. I swallowed quite the amount of water and I found the whole experience pretty taxing.

Biking was better. I turned out to be just below an average biker, which I feel fine about, considering I've biked for less than two months, and I bike in my running shoes. However, I need to increase my lactate acid threshold. When my legs gave in, I was biking on pure willpower. Unfortunately, willpower will not make you go as fast as properly trained legs. The hills were no joke!

I'm an ok runner and I expected to run faster than average, which I just barely did. Coming off a bike after 75 minutes of peddling, in wet socks, I had lost all feeling in my toes. But I figured, if I just keep placing one foot infront of the other, my legs will know what to do. And the funny thing is, the fastest mile I've ever run, in a race or practice, was the first mile coming off my bike. But then my stomach and legs started to cramp so I had to slow down significantly. But it made me wonder, what capacity I actually have, if I just push myself harder.

My transitions were surprising. Apparently, they were my strong suit. They were not perfect, by any means, but I was fast enough for it to make a significant impact on my overall time.

All in all, I'm very proud to have completed my first triathlon. I was hoping to enjoy it more, but at least it was interesting enough and I know I will do it again. I need to learn how to properly swim. I need to build biking legs and start using bike shoes with cleats. There is so much room for improvement, I'm curious to find out how much I can advance.

Here are some more statistics, for those interested:
800 m (0.5 miles ) Swim: 00:24:40
Transition 1: 00:03:42
30 km (18.5 miles) Bike: 01:14:33
Transition 2: 00:01:00
5 km (3.1 miles) Run: 00:30:09
Total time: 02:14:12
Average time, Female: 02:20:02

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Getting our hands dirty

Celebrating my husband's birthday by reinterpreting "whole foods" and "finger food".
The evening's menue:
Appetizer: Salmon sashimi
Entrée: Grilled Top Sirloin served with oven roasted potatoes and a cold yoghurt and horseradish sauce
Dessert: Banana bread birthday cake with a banana and walnut filling topped with whipped cream and blueberries.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Who am I?

Who am I? A very profound question, indeed. I've been on this earth for about 30 years and thought I had figured myself out pretty well by now. But recently I've had my pre-conceived ideas about myself not only stirred, but shaken.

If you know me or have followed my blog over the years, it should come as no surprise when I tell you that I truly enjoy shopping (especially shoes), food and entertainment (an example, The Eurovision Song Contest).

Last year, I consciously added a new aspect to my life, healthy living. I started exercising regularly and I finally found a way to successfully manage my weight. As a part of my healthy living, I picked up running. I can't say enjoy it, but there is no denying, it is a very efficient way to build stamina as well as burn calories.

To sum it up, I'm an almost 30 year old who likes to shop, eat, be entertained, with a healthy BMI who exercise regularly.

I don't just like shopping, I love bargain shopping. So, hitting the outlet mall on Memorial Day was a no-brainer. After a good few hours of scavenging, I had found some amazing deals. I bought a new pair of running shoes, padded bike shorts, a reflective bike jacket, bike gloves and two workout tops.

I also found a pair of sandals I really liked, but decided that $40 was too much to spend. How many pairs of shoes does one person really need? However, when I got home later the same day, I signed up for a 10K race for $45 without blinking. Did I choose racing before shoes?

We live in a small city. But in our small city, there is a restaurant rated in the Michelin Guide. The restaurant, Chez TJ, has a star of it's own, but amongst the chefs who started their careers at Chez TJ, the alumni currently hold eight stars in the Michelin Guide. Ever since my husband and I moved here, we have debated whether we should go or not. Food is a great love of mine, perhaps my greatest love. But more than anything I love simple street-food so spending a minimum of $85 per person on one meal has never seemed reasonable, so we have never been.

Over the past month, my husband and I have planned out our running goals for the near future. We're attempting our first triathlon in a few weeks, he's running SF Marathon later this summer, I'm running San Jose Half Marathon later this fall and next spring we're running Gothenburg Half Marathon. We made sure to register for all the events, so that we can't back out. All in all, we spent over $600 on registrations fees in May.

For the same amount of money we could have gone to Chez TJ and treated five of our friends, or the two of us could have splurged on the Chef's Tasting Menue, with wine pairing and still have $200 so spare. Did I just choose racing before food?

I've been ignoring the signs, maybe because I didn't want to realize I was changing. But there was an incident that opened my eyes and force me to face the truth.

I'm a huge fan of the Eurovision Song Contest. If you don't believe me, you should read my previous blog posts. Sweden won this year's competition and as a reward, Sweden will host the event next year. The Eurovision Song Contest is always held in May and I'm planning to be in Sweden in May 2013, to run Gothenburg Half Marathon. But as it turns out, the Grand Finale of Eurovision Song Contest 2013, will be on the same day as the half marathon, most likely in a different city. If Sweden is lucky, we'll be able to host Eurovision Song Contest once a decade. Gothenburg Half Marathon is every year. However, I've worked really hard on my fitness and I'm hoping to be in the best shape of my life next summer.

I'm making it sound like a difficult decision, but in fact, I had already made up my mind. Gothenburg Half Marathon, I'll be seeing you in May 2013! Did I choose racing before the Eurovision Song Contest? Yes, I did!

So, when looking at the facts, am I actually not an almost 30 year old who likes to shop, eat and be entertained as much as I am an almost 30 year old, who likes to run races, cook healthy food, shop workout gear and occasionally be entertained.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sweden welcomes you, Eurovision 2013!

WE WON!!! We actually won, Eurovision Song Contest 2012! Or actually, Loreen won! I can't be more thrilled for her, and for Sweden!

Loreen turned out to be popular all over Europe. All participating countries, except Italy, gave Sweden points. With 372 points, we were clear winners with 113 points down to the first runner-up. Loreen is the artist who has been awarded second most total points in Eurovision history, after Norwegian Alexander Rybak. However, she did succeed in braking a record, for being awarded more 12 points than any other artist before her.

With 259 points, Russia was voted as the first runner-up, which to me is a scandal! I had much more respect for the second runner-up, Serbia! As happy as I am over Sweden's success, I can't help but wonder what happened to our Scandinavian neighbors. Out of the 26 countries in the finale, Iceland finished 20, Denmark 23 and Norway 26! I didn't particularly care much for the Norwegian contribution, but they were by no means the worst!

So, what will happen next? Sweden will welcome all of Europe, and anyone else interested, on to our turf. Exactly which city turf is not yet decided. However, the dates are pretty much set and week 20 will be Eurovision week, with semi-finals May 14 and May 16. The Eurovision finale will be held on Saturday, May 18, 2013.

There are several factors to take under consideration when deciding which city get to host the finale. The first bet would be Stockholm, being the capitol city. However, as many times before, Gothenburg has been favored as the event city. Out of the four previous times Sweden has hosted Eurovision Song Contest, it has been held in Stockholm twice and Gothenburg and Malmö once respectively. There are also other, more unusual, factors to consider this time around. Over the same period, Stockholm is scheduled to host the Ice-hockey World Championship (May 3 - May 19). Meanwhile, in Gothenburg, 65 000 runners (and 200 000 spectators) are expected to participate in the worlds largest half marathon, on Saturday, the same Saturday as the Eurovision finale. Will these two events provide the Eurovision Song Contest with an even more spectacular backdrop, or will it deter the Eurovision Committee but creating too much pressure on the hotel and public transport capacities?

I wish I had more information to share, but I'll try to keep you updated. For now, I will wrap up this year's Eurovision coverage with a walk down memory lane. Enjoy!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Eurovision Song Contest 2012, The competitors

Tomorrow, Saturday, May 25, is the grand finale of Eurovision Song Contest 2012! As the fan you know I am, this is almost like a national holiday.

During the week past, 36 countries have competed for the 20 coveted tickets to the grand finale. This was done through two semi-finals, one on Tuesday and one on Thursday. I'm pretty happy about how it turned out. I didn't necessarily have 10 favorites in each semi-final, but most of the songs I really cared for did make it through.

Let me give a short note on the songs competing in the grand finale:

Semi-final 1
Iceland - Never Forget: I liked this song and hoped for it to go through. However, I have a feeling I would have liked it more if it was sung in Icelandic, it would have added to the mystery.
Greece - Aphrodisiac: This, I didn't care for. To be honest, many of the songs in Eurovision Song Contest is on the generic side. When generic music is done ok, it usually stays below the radar, it doesn't excite nor offend. However, the Greek contribution was so generic, it made my angry. The song, the singing, the girl singing, the beats and the dancers all wrapped up into a very irritating package.
Albania - Suus: Not my favorite, but I did put it in my top ten for this semi-final. I shun drama from my everyday life, but some added drama on stage is always welcomed. Also, the artist fascinated me. She was regal and mature, two elements you don't typically find in this competition. So, all in all, she was different, and different is usually good.
Romania - Mandinga: Not the most profound song, but it did make me happy. Any song that makes me think of a sunny day at the beach, sipping cold drinks, is ok in my book. I'm glad this upbeat summer tune made it to the finale.
Cyprus - La La Love: Herein lies the biggest controversy, I really didn't like this song. I didn't hate it, but people in general seemed to really like it. I will admit that the artist, Ivi Adamou, was beautiful. I was also very intrigued by her voice. But the song itself was really annoying. Somewhere deep within, I think I might have been able to distinguish somethings that might have been interesting, but everything was drowned out by the incessant euro-techno beat.
Denmark - Should've Know Better: It wouldn't be the Eurovision Song Contest is there wasn't any wardrobe malfunctions, Denmark being a good example of that. The outfits felt gimmicky and distracted from what was actually a really good song. I will enjoy seeing them again on Saturday, but I really look forward to hearing them again, on a CD.
Russia - Party for Everybody: Old Russian ladies. Cute and adorable as they may be, I challenge anyone who would claim this is good music. Do I need to remind people that this is Eurovision SONG Contest, not a "cute" contest, not a "good effort" contest and definitely not a "it's-actually-better-if-I-hit-the-mute-button" contest! This is not good, not good at all!
Hungary - Sound of Our Hearts: Not great nor offensive. Not good nor bad. Very bland and very boring.
Moldova - Lautar: This I enjoyed. Sure, the stage-show was a bit messy, but this song had an ease to it I really appreciated. It was playful and didn't take itself too seriously.
Ireland - Waterline: Jedward is back. Last year, I was one of their supporters. This year, not so much. You can't blame them for not bringing energy to everything they do, but if your image is a Energizer/Duracell Bunny on speed, you need a song reflecting that image. Waterline was far too meek.

All in all, I was especially happy to see Iceland, Romania, Denmark and Moldova make it to the finale. Unfortunately, my favorite from this semi-final was eliminated. I absolutely loved Finland's contribution.

Semi-final 2
Serbia - Synonym: Well worthy of a ticket to the grande finale, this was one of the most genuine performances of semi-final 2. Simplicity is underrated, sometimes all you need is a good artist singing a good song. Having said all this, Serbia was not one of my favorites, but it had more to do with genre than anything else.
F.Y.R. Macedonia - Crno i Belo: I'm not sure I understood this song. To me, it felt more like a medley of a handful songs, rather than one coherent one. Also, I wasn't too fond of the artist's voice.
Malta - This is the Night: Cheesy is not usually a positive word. Being cheesy in a cheesy world makes you blend in, but it still doesn't make it good. However, once in a while, cheesy can translate into catchy and Malta did just that. As cheesy as this was, I couldn't help but smile. I'm quite happy about seeing this in the finale, though I'm sure I'll grow tired of it really fast.
Ukraine - Be My Guest: Sometimes when you listen to a brand new song, you have the feeling that you have heard it before. I have, in fact, heard this before but with the title "When Love Takes Over" by David Guetta feat. Kelly Rowland. The similarities were blatant, in other worlds, Be My Guest, doesn't necessarily fit the Eurovision Song Contest stage, but I'm sure people all over Europe will party to it this summer.
Sweden - Euphoria: I'm not sure how I should comment on this. I'll just say that I haven't been this proud of our contribution in many, many years. Go Loreen!
Turkey - Love Me Back: I surprised myself, I really liked this. Without a doubt one of my top 10 songs this year and I can't even explain why. There was just something about this song, especially the chorus, that appealed to me, for some strange reason.
Estonia - Kuula: My favorite ballad this year. It wasn't very orignal and it did sound awfully familiar, but then I think that's the curse of many ballads in general. The song was pleasant and the artist looked his part. I think what made it stand out to me was his voice. It's not always you get an artist with a nice voice who knows how to sing but when you do, it makes the world of a difference.
Norway - Stay: Dear neighbors, how I wish I liked this more than I do. It's not terrible, it's not even bad, but the artist Tooji needs to work on his singing and I can't get over how feminine they choreographed his dance. But it's still better than many other contributions and I can't help but feel happy about Norway making it to the finale, for no other reason than them being Norway.
Bosnia-Herzegovina - Korake Ti Znam: Nope, this did nothing for me. One word: Boring!
Lithuania - Love is Blind: If Malta succeeded in translating cheesy into catchy, Lithuania took cheesy and added some extra cheese and then some. The song was over the top cliché and it was further exaggerated by the singer Donny Montell, his moves and his dancing. His poor singing didn't help. The cheese-fest wasn't just bad, it was almost offensive.

In summary, semi-final 2 was a mixed bag of goodies. I guess I wished Slovakia would have made the cut, but I didn't care enough to be disappointed. Obviously, I loved Loreen, because the song was great, she is wonderful and because I'm Swedish. I'm a bit nervous about her being listed as the favorite to win, but I'm cautiously hopeful.

I should also mention the six countries automatically qualified to the grand finale. They have not performed live yet, so it's difficult to judge them fairly:

France - Echo: This interests me. Maybe because I'm intrigued by the artist, Anggun. She has a very neat voice and look. I feel like I would like to know more. The song itself is catchy yet a little bit different, so I suspect I will like it, even live.
Spain - Quédate Conmigo: Spain is one of the countries that makes me cringe each year, cause they have had many questionable contributions in the past. Given their track-record, I was pleasantly surprised this year. This is not a favorite of mine, but it sounds good and the artist can sing.
Germany - Standing Still: This is the most radio-friendly song in this year's competition. That is a huge compliment. As much as I love the Eurovision Song Contest, I know most of the songs wouldn't survive in the competitive world of radio and records sales. The German contribution might not be as exciting or glittery as others, but it is a complete package and it's nice to be able to relax and enjoy a good song without having to worry about where it might go next.
United Kingdom - Love Will Set You Free: You never know what the UK has to offer and this year they have prepared yet another surprise. The 76 year old Engelbert Humperdnick is taking us back to the British roots with this ballad. His voice is surprisingly crisp and pleasant, and I appreciate the song for being so distinctively British. Not a winner, but I'm sure I'll happily sing along to this tune in the future.
Italy - L'Amore E Femmina: I hope this will sound as good live. If it does, this will be one of my favorites this year. Flirting with the past, this song is still undoubtedly modern. I like it!

Who will win? I have no idea, but I hope Sweden and Loreen will. Within 24 hours we will know and Eurovision Song Contest 2012 will have its winner!

Monday, May 21, 2012


What would a trip to Japan be without a visit to Tokyo? Probably good enough, but it wouldn't be as spectacular and wonderfully unique. During our five days in Tokyo my husband and I experienced a whole variety of new and different things. Given that we only had five days, we chose to focus on things most appealing to us, knowing that the city could cater to any interest there is. So, let me introduce Tokyo seen through our eyes, one neighborhood at the time.

Just waking around in the Shinjuku district is fascinating, as most guide books will tell you. But three things in particular stood out to us. Firstly, the Shinjuku metro station is massive. The station average over 3.5 million commuters every day. We found ourselves there in rush hour and it was truly an exceptional experience. I probably would have enjoyed it more, if I planned to be there to watch the spectacle rather than trying to navigate through the masses with a specific destination in mind.

Secondly, just by the Shinjuku station you'll find Takashimaya Times Square. In the building you'll find  Tokyu Hands, which turned out to be my favorite store in Japan. Image, eight floors of things you can't live without and things you never knew you needed (or wanted). Crazy kitchen utensils, appliances, make-up, pet supplies, stickers, bikes etc. all in the same store. There are a couple of Tokyu Hands in the city, but this seems to be the easiest one to shop at.

Thirdly and most importantly, The Capcom Café. For those of you who don't know Capcom, it's the gaming company behind games like Street Fighter, Tekken, Resident Evil, Phoenix Wright and many others. If you already know Capcom, you should be pretty excited by now. The Capcom café is located in Shinjuku's "red-light district" Kabukicho. You get a two hour time slot during which you can eat, drink, game and participate in several skits conducted by the waitstaff of the café. All the items on the menu are inspired and named after a video game character. We shared a Ryu and a Kazuya drink, ate some Phoenix Wright pasta and a Dhalsim curry baked potato. If you're a gaming enthusiasts like us, this is the place to be.

Harajuku is probably my favorite district in Tokyo. To me, it had the perfect combination of international high-fashion, urban design, crazy Japanese street fashion and picturesque alleyways full of flowers and small coffeeshops.

The best way to experience the pretty and urban vibe of Harajuku is to walk down Cat Street and it's surrounding alleyways. While in this area you might want to make a stop at Ra.a.g.f (Rabbit And Grow Fat). It's one of Tokyo's rabbit cafés. For 300 yen you get one beverage and 30 minutes to hang out with bunnies. We were lucky enough to have our coffee accompanied by a litter of one month old bunnies. ADORABLE!! Or as the Japanese would say "KAWAII". Another patron at the rabbit café had a slightly hysterical breakdown when she saw the bunnies. A literal cute-overload.

When visiting Harajuku there is another must. You must take a stroll on Takeshita-dori. It's the perfect place to get a glimpse of Japanese street fashion. One can't be anything but fascinated and impressed by the carefully orchestrated looks that are put together in meticulous ways. After a walk down Takeshita-dori, the unusual seemed mundane, the unique had turned average and the spectacular was nothing more than the expected.

We didn't spend too much time exploring the Shibuya district. It looked like a fascinating area and I'm sure it has a lot to offer, but we simply ran out of time. The only thing we took a closer look at was the famous Shibuya crossing. One of the most recognized images of Tokyo is of an insanely busy pedestrian intersection. That would Shibuya crossing. An estimated 100 000 people pass through the intersection, every hour! After have been there, that estimate doesn't feel a least bit exaggerated.

Roppongi was another area we didn't have enough time to explore. However, I do have one recommendation, the Mori Tower observation deck.

Walking around the popular shopping district, sampling foods at the big department stores, visiting the Sony Building and buying cloths at Uniqlo would have been fun enough, but Ginza had much more to offer.

You might have heard of the Tsukiji Fish Market and its famous tuna auction. It is always mentioned on Tokyo must visit lists. After have been there, I will have to agree. It was well worth getting up at 3.30 am, getting there by 4.15 am and standing in line until 5.25 am, when we were allowed into the auction. Then eating the freshest sushi imaginable at 6.30 am was the perfect way to round up a morning at the fish market. I would highly recommend you to stick around or return to the fish market, to experience the Intermediate Wholesale area, which opens at 9 am. Bring your camera!

Any guidebook will tell you that Akihabara is the electronics district of Tokyo. But before you jump to to the conclusions that Akihabara just caters to fans of Best Buy and Fry's Electronics, you should know that while Akihabara might have started off in electronics, it has evolved way beyond its simple beginnings. Akihabara is the perfect place to explore the more "indulgent" side of Japanese culture. The streets are filled with video gaming halls, toy stores, UFO catcher machines, maid cafés, pachinko parlors, capsule vending machines and, of course, electronic shops. I realize that the list of things I just mentioned might need further explanation. If you're unfamiliar with any of terms, I recommend you to Google it, it's fascinating stuff. Make sure to visit Akihabara after the sun sets, when the neon lights are a spectacle in itself.

Tokyo Vicinity
Tokyo has seemingly endless amount of things to offer. Even with the limited amount to time we had, we decided to spend one day in the Tokyo vicinity, rather than in Tokyo city. This was by no means a random decision, we had a very specific goal in mind, The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.

The Ghibli Museum is the home of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki's wonderful anime creations. Master creator Hayao Miyazaki is often referred to as Japan's Walt Disney, which is an inaccurate description. I'm a big fan of Disney and love much of what they do, but to me, Disney is entertainment, Studio Ghibli is art and fantasy. If you're not familiar with Hayao Miyazaki's work, such as Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, I highly recommend you to get on it. But either way, if you want to revisit the feeling of childhood wonders, The Ghibli Museum offers that in abundance.

On our way back from The Ghibli Museum, we took the opportunity to visit the Broadway Nakano Mall in Nakano. What an experience it was. The mall sold anything and everything. In one store they sold really expensive Rolex watches, next to it was a dollar store and next to that was a restaurant. With no general idea or sense of departments, exploring the mall felt like an endless line fo surprises. Broadway Nakano has another branch in Akihabara which is smaller but more conveniently located.

Top 3 Must-visits
I'm sure you've already figured out how much I enjoyed Tokyo. We had five days to spend and we still ran out of time. But if I had to narrow it down to one single day in Tokyo, doing three things I would start the day at the Tsukiji Fish Market and then walk around in Harajuku, making sure I didn't miss Takeshita-dori. As the night falls, I would spend the reminder of the day in Akihabara, indulging in whatever tickles your fancy.

Monday, May 14, 2012

From Kyoto to Yudanaka

I can promise you that this blog post will be long, but I'll do my very best to keep it as concise as possible. I'll simply write briefly about my favorite things my husband and I did in each city and try to stay away from things you can read about in any random guide book.

If you can't find a good/affordable hotel in Kyoto, make sure to check the surrounding cities. We stayed in  Ishiyama, just 10 min by local train from Kyoto station. Very convenient.

We spent two full days in Kyoto (4 nights) and we were lucky enough to arrive in the middle of the sakura season (cherry blossoms). So our impression of Kyoto is very much dominated by the breath taking beauty of a city in bloom. Most guide books will lead you to important Temples, the Imperial Palace, parks, neighborhoods etc. We ran out of time before we got to the eastern parts of Kyoto, but most of the important landmarks we saw in Kyoto was well worth a visit.

One temple that was not mentioned was Otani Hombyo, located between Kyoto Station and the Kiyomizu Temple. Otani Hombyo might be no more than an average temple, but if you walk through it and into the winding streets on the left of and behind the temple (leading up to the Kiyomizu Temple), the seemingly hidden burial grounds are simply mind-blowing.

My favorite park in Kyoto was at the Toji Temple, but I have a sneaking feeling it was all due to the cherry blossoms. According to our guide book, Toji Temple is the tallest wooden structure in Japan, but else from that, it's barely worth a visit. But if you're in Kyoto during the sakura, it is utterly amazing.

Unfortunately, we had terrible weather during the one day we spent in Osaka. So, what do you do when the weather is bad? You eat and shop (or at least window shop). The most memorable thing about Osaka (not including the food) was the pod hotel we stayed at. Men and women were not allowed to stay on the same floor so it might not have been the most romantic accommodation for a couple on their honeymoon. But for the experience of it, we said our good byes and went out separate ways for the night. Next morning, I woke up, switched on the tv and to my astonishment, the Moomins were on tv (Finish book/cartoon from the mid 1940s). After one night in Osaka, our trip continued to Hiroshima (and Miyajima).

I have not been to many places where the sense of actually walking in history is as potent as in Hiroshima. After have been there I'm convinced that it is a place every person should visit at some point in their life. If you're a peace-loving person like me, it is with a very heavy heart you take part of the city's history from within its own body. Everyone knows about the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, but when walking in the Peace Memorial Park or visiting the Peace Memorial Museum you can actually feel it.

To most people, Hiroshima will always be synonymous with the atomic bomb. To me, Hiroshima has transformed into an ambassador of Peace and a hope of a future without nuclear weapons.

When planning a trip to Hiroshima, I would recommend you to plan an extra day to explore Miyajima Island. After a short train ride followed by an even shorter boat ride, you'll find yourself on a very pretty island where tame deers run free. You should know that the deers are everywhere and they really like paper, so be careful carrying paper around or you'll end up losing parts of it to hungry forest creatures, just like I did. 

If you're short on time you can explore the Itsukushima Shrine and it's surroundings, but if you have all day, I would recommend you to walk/climb up Mount Misen. It's a decent climb and a good work-out so dress appropriately. Mind you that I did the walk wearing a maxi-dress, TOMS shoes and a leather jacket in pouring rain and was miserable during most of the climb, but I still recommend you to do it. That should speak volumes.

Yudanaka (and Shibu Onsen)
Most people choose to visit Yudanaka for one very specific reason, the Snow Monkeys at Jihokudani Yaenkoen. So did we, and  boy, are we happy we did! The Snow Monkeys hanging around their onsen (hotspring) were adorable and highly entertaining. I could have stayed there all day. Another perk of staying in the Yudanaka area were in fact the onsens. We stayed at a ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) which had its own onsen but we also took the opportunity book a private onsen at Tomi No Yu which had a spectacular view. 

Between Yudanaka and the Snow Monkeys you'll find Shibu Onsen, a small mountain village with multiple onsens. There is a "onsen scavenger hunt" you can do (we did), but it is more than enough to aimlessly wander the streets and just enjoy the surroundings. One thing you shouldn't miss is the local sake and beer brewery. They have free tastings and sell some really nice sakes in store. 

While staying in Yudanaka, we took the opportunity to visit Obuse, a village just a few train stops from Yudanaka. In Obuse we were pleasently surprised to find the Hokusai Museum. Katsushika Hokusai is the artist behind The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which happens to be my husbands all time favorite painting. Another unexpected surprise Obuse had in store was ice-cream. The chestnut ice-cream we found was the best ice-cream I've had in my life!

Besides the Snow Monkeys, onsens and Obuse, our 4 night stay at Yudanaka would not have been the same without the amazing Mr. Ichiro Yumoto, his wife and the wonderful ryokan they ran and owned. So friendly and helpful. Mr Ichiro Yumoto drives his guests to whatever place they want to visit and he only hopes for a smile in return. So, if you ever find yourself planning to visit Yudanaka, make sure to stay at Shimaya Ryokan.

After Yudanaka, our honeymoon continued to our last and final stop, Tokyo. An eclectic city like Tokyo needs a introduction of its own. So, stay tuned, to find out more about Tokyo.

Friday, April 27, 2012


I'm back, after a short hiatus. I've been busy elsewhere, to be exact, I've been busy honeymooning in Japan! Two and a half years after our nuptials, my husband and I finally packed our bags and headed for our honeymoon. The destination was decided a long time ago, and if you know us, the choice of going to Japan would seem like a perfect fit, almost predicable.

Both of us have been fortunate to be able to travel fairly frequently, together, through work and before we met. We have been to a bunch of Asian countries but none of us have ever set foot in Japan (with the exception of the occasional transit at Narita Airport). But for the longest time we have been indulging in various aspects of Japanese culture. We've watched countless of Japanese movies, series and game shows, we enjoy a lot of Japanese food, we are avid gamers, we have been to anime conventions, we both used to have Tamagotchis and my husband's favorite piece of art is "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" by Katsushika Hokusai. We even watched "Lost in Translation" on our very first date. Actually, it's a wonder we haven't been to Japan until now.

To summarize our trip with one word, it would have to be amazing! It was fascinating, surprising, relaxing and crazy, all wrapped up in the unique package that is Japan. Also, it was super tasty, but more on that later.

There are so many things I want to share with you that I could write a book about it. I would perhaps be able to fit it all into an essay, but to reduce enough material to fill a book into a blog post is impossible. So starting today and over the coming week, I will be posting four separate post (including this one) about our trip. The next blog post will summarize our first 9 days of travel and it will include Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Yudanaka and Obuse. The third post will be about our 5 days in Tokyo. The final blog post will be all about edible goodies!

I hope you'll enjoy reading about Japan. And if you do, imagine going there and experiencing it!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My beloved hometown

To quote one of my favorite artist, Maia Hirasawa: "Gothenburg, I thank you, you gave me someone to love and I really owe you".

In very many ways I feel more attached to my hometown of Göteborg/Gothenburg, and the West coast of Sweden, than with Sweden itself. When I get geographically homesick, I don't miss Sweden's many lakes and grand forests, I miss the ocean, the smell of salt and the bare granite. I don't necessarily miss Swedish, but the local dialect of Göteborg is like chicken soup for my soul. If I would find myself disliking something about Sweden, it would never apply to Göteborg. Without a doubt, I have put the city and the people of the city on a very high pedestal.

There are several factors contributing to my love for Göteborg. I'm brought up there, my family is there and many of my friends live there. It's the city I'm most familiar with and the first city I got to explore and discover. And on top of that, in my opinion, the West coast of Sweden is the most beautiful place in the world.

In 2002 I left Göteborg to pursue university studies in England. Since then I have lived in several other places. But Göteborg has always been a place I could come home to and a place where I feel completely at ease. With the exception of a few new restaurant and clubs, and a few new and re-routed tram lines, the city has remained pretty much unchanged throughout the years.

It dawned on me, that in September this year, it will have been 10 years ago I left Göteborg. I have moved back, briefly, a few times since, but all in all, I haven't lived there for quite some time. This got me thinking. If I was 6 when I moved from Taipei to Göteborg and it's been almost 10 years since I left the city and I haven't turned 30 yet, I must have spent more than half my life outside my beloved hometown. This prompted me to take a closer look. If I break my life down into months and look at where I've lived during the majority of each month (excluding vacations and business travels), by the end of April 2012, I will have lived the majority of my life elsewhere than Göteborg.

As a tribute to Göteborg, which will always be my beloved hometown, I want to share Maia Hirasawa's song and music video. Unlike her, I have never doubted my feelings towards the city, but just like her, I would write a songs about Göteborg if I was a songwriter.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

I had a thought the other day, a thought about my husband. And today it's the perfect day to write about it, because today is our anniversary. Today, eight years ago, we went on our first date.

I met my husband a few months after I turned 21. Since then I have loved him and he has loved me back. In other words, I have been loved by the person I love for most of my adult life. The epiphany I had the other day was about the consequences of this reality.

For as long as I can remember, I've always been fairly self-confident. When I was younger the self-confidence came from accomplishments and achievements. Today, I think it comes from being comfortable in my own skin and from being happy in life. This, more quiet but potent, confidence has grown constantly over the past years. If I should be really cliché about it, it has grown out of love.

I am constantly, every day, reminded by my husband, that I'm the greatest person alive. Not that he verbalize it everyday, but that's how he makes me feel just by looking at me. And that is regardless of how I feel about my self at any given moment. When someone you love tells you your are beautiful despite the snot running down your nose or who tries everything to make you happy despite your PMS tantrums, it's difficult to feel anything but invincible.

When you get to mirror yourself in the eyes of someone who loves you, the reflection can only build you up and make you stronger.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What's in a minute?

One minute is made up of 60 seconds. In one hour, there will be 60 minutes. 24 hours makes one day and one day consists of 1440 minutes. No matter how you twist and turn, it will always add up. With all that said, all minutes are not created equal.

Last week, I set out to try my bike legs. My intent is to finish a sprint triathlon this summer and knowing myself right, it suits me better to play around with the three different sports (swimming, biking and running) at my own pace rather than follow a triathlon training schedule.

Unlike most people attempting their first triathlon, I'm dreading the bike leg of the race. A year ago I would have stressed out about the running, but now I feel I have that under control. The swimming is fairly short, I have no time expectations and I know how to swim. That leaves the biking. 14 miles is not too intimidating, but to be honest, my legs have never tried 14 miles of race biking, so maybe it's more being afraid of the unknown.

As my bike is pretty unreliable (I can't switch gears), I figured I would hit the stationary bike at the gym. I mounted the bike and adjusted the resistance and off I went. 1 minute... 2 mintes... 3 minutes... 3 min, 30 seconds... 4 minutes... 4 minutes, 15 seconds... 4 minutes, 30 seconds... 4 minutes, 40 seconds... 4 minutes, 50 seconds... 4 minutes, 55 seconds... 5 minutes... After 5 minutes of utter boredom and mind-numbing peddling, I had gone 1 mile. ONE mile!!! I had 13 more miles to go! I'm usually pretty good at pushing myself, but enough was enough! Time practically stood still. I found myself cursing the timer between each second. I had no idea you had time to do anything between seconds. Feeling a bit defeated I  gave up and joined a Zumba class instead.

However, I hate feeling defeated, and I still have a triathlon to finish, so two days later I decided to dust the old bike and have a go at an actual bike ride. Knowing my bike had a few technical imperfections, I set off on my second attempt. 14 miles and well over an hour later I returned home with sore legs (some of the slopes nearly killed me), sweating like a pig but with a smile on my face. It wasn't bad, it wasn't bad at all. And I still don't really know where time went. Imagine, if I had a bike with working gears, I would be unstoppable!

Funny thing, time. One minute can feel never-ending, one hour can feel like a breeze. If riding a stationary bike is at one end of the spectra, gaming must be at the other end. 5 minutes of biking was enough to make me give up, while the 11 hours it took me to finish COD Modern Warfare 3 felt like something I casually did one afternoon.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Melody Festival 2012, The winner is...

... Loreen!

I'm proud to present this year's winner of the Melody Festival and Sweden's representative in the Eurovision Song Contest 2012. Loreen turned out to be the clear winner this year, according to the jury groups as well as the Swedish public. With a staggering 670 551 votes (32.7% of total votes) in the finale she outnumbered first runner up, Danny Saucedo (who received 22.3% of the total votes), with 212 163 votes.

Another thing I really enjoyed was to see Björn Ranelid feat. Sara Li ending up as the finale's looser. Not because I wish Björn Ranelid any harm, but because I'm happy, and very relieved, to know that people in Sweden still recognizes bad music when they hear it.

All in all, the finale was satisfying. Good show with a good mix of music. The only little thing that annoyed me was Danny's behavior after they announced Loreen the winner. I can understand why he was disappointed and there is nothing wrong with showing sadness, however, bashing Loreen and the Swedish public is uncalled for. He might not have won, but he did receive 458 388 votes and his fans and supporters paid for each and every one of them. I expected more professionalism from Danny.

The Melody Festival 2012 has come to an end, but Loreen's journey is far from over. I am very proud of Sweden and our collective decision to send talented Loreen, and I'm very curious to see how she does in the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku, May 22-26. The song has a distinctly modern sound and Loreen has a very special quality which makes this performance stand out from the crowd. A massive and costly stage show with fireworks and a sea of talented dancers can be spectacular, but sometimes a single woman with an amazing voice can truly make a lingering impact.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Melody Festival 2012, The Finale

May I have your attention? It's time, its finally here, what we've all been waiting for... drum roll, please... The Grand Finale of the Melody Festival 2012!!!

The journey began six short weeks ago. Within a day we will arrive at our destination and we will crown the winner of this year's Melody Festival and Sweden's representative in Eurovision Song Contest 2012.

This year's finale promises to deliver some great performances, some unique experiences and an outcome that might surprise. These 10 artist are about to enter their final battle, and one will win it all. If you want to know more about the artist, please refer to my previous blog posts. If you follow the link attached to each artist, you will be able to see their performance from the elimination rounds.

David Lindgren: The young and charming artist, with a background in musical theatre. He qualified from elimination round 2.

Torsten Flinck & Revolutionsorkestern: The unpredictable and sometimes unstable, yet very respected stage actor who made his way to the finale from elimination round 1, via The Second Chance.

Dead By April: The Metalcore band who was the first artist to introduce "growling" to the Melody Festival. They qualified to the finale from elimination round 1.

Lisa Miskovsky: The unlikely participant in the Melody Festival who has wowed the public over the past decade with her own work, and work she has done for others. She qualified through elimination round 4.

Top Cats: The Rockabilly band that made their way to the finale from elimination round 2, via The Second Chance.

Loreen: The Swedish Idol 2004 alumni who is best known for her success in last year's Melody Festival. She qualified from elimination round 1.

Ulrik Munther: The 18 year old who wowed the public with a song his co-wrote. He made his way to the finale through elimination round 2.

Björn Ranelid feat. Sara Li: The award winning author who enlisted Sara Li to help bring his music poetry to life. He made it through elimination round 3 and landed a place in the finale.

Molly Sandén: The former blond who had her heart broken, went brunette and performed a song in elimination round 3 that earned her a spot in the finale.

Danny Saucedo: The Swedish Idol 2006 alumni who was first runner-up in last year's Melody Festival. He qualified through elimination round 4.

There are several interesting artists in this year's finale. The general feeling is that the winner will be either Loreen or Danny Saucedo. Fingers crossed, it will not be Danny. I have nothing against Danny, but it would be refreshing to send something different to Eurovision Song Contest. If we send Danny, it would be like sending a blond copy of last year's representative, Eric Saade. Also, I would prefer to send an artist who can actually sing.

I would be proud if we crowned Loreen the winner. She has an amazing voice, great stage presence and she's offering something unique. Having said that, she is not my favorite artist this year, at least not my favorite piece of music. I absolutely love Lisa Miskovsky, her performance and song. Solely based on musicality, she is, hands down, my favorite. But this competition is not just about musicality, it's a competition and it's about making an instant impact, it's the Melody Festival. So, my favorite to win the competition is Loreen.

I'm dreading to see Torsten Flinck & Revolutionsorkestern as well as Björn Ranelid feat. Sara Li again. I don't feel that they are real threats to win the competition, even though I expect them to do pretty well. Another artist that might to well is Molly Sandén. I'm also curious to see how Dead By April will hold up against the competition.

As I said before, this year's finale has the potential to be very exciting. Personally, I can't wait. With the champagne chilled, pink dress picked out and the feather boa ready to go, I'm prepared. If you want to join me in the celebration, you will be able to catch the show live, Saturday, March 10, at 8 pm (CET):

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Melody Festival 2012, Second Chance Results

There's really not much to say. Out of the eight songs in the Second Chance, I wasn't really rooting for anyone. But as in any competition, it's more fun and exciting if you have an opinion and a favorite. I knew which two songs I would have wanted to see in the finale, but unfortunately I didn't get my way, at all.

Instead of going through one battle at the time, I'll just mention a few quick things about the artists that I would have wanted to see again and the artists who won the final two tickets to the finale.

I would have wanted to see Dynazty and Sean Banan in the finale. Dynazty were not extra-ordinary by any means, but they delivered a solid package and, more importantly, they where better then the competition. In the finale they would have disappeared, especially along side Dead By April who are, by far, superior.

Sean Banan was a joke, but it was ok, that was his intention. It was nothing but silly and I can understand how his humour might have offended some people and been misunderstood by others. I would have wanted to see him in the finale for one reason only, he puts a smile on my face. I rather be amused and entertained than being indifferent. In the finale, he would have added showmanship, humour and some much needed lightheartedness.

Instead of Dynazty and Sean Banan, we will be seeing more of Top Cats and Torsten Flinck & Revolutionsorkestern. I would have preferred never having to see them ever again. Top Cats has been a dislike of mine since the first time I saw them. The lead singer has a really cheesy quality I can't get passed and the vocals are very forced, like he's trying to hard. The only positive thing, I guess, it that they will be bringing yet another music genre to the finale.

Torsten Flinck & Revolutionsorkestern is beyond my comprehension, but it didn't come as a total surprise. There are apparently a whole bunch of people in Sweden with a very questionable taste in music, given the success of Björn Ranelid feat. Sara Li a few weeks ago and now Torsten Flinck. My only consolation is that Torsten Flinck might steal votes from Björn Ranelid in the finale and that will hopefully be the end of it.

With all the elimination rounds behind us, it is time to focus on the grand finale. It is finally down to business. I'll be writing all about it tomorrow!